Huruiki - The Return of a Mountain

From Te Ahi Kaa, 6:06 pm on 13 December 2015
The summit of Mt Huruiki

The view from the summit of Mt Huruiki Photo: RNZ/Jeremy Rose

Huruiki: The Return of a Mountain

The Shadows fall! The Shadows fall!
And the Māori will be plaited as a rope
Its rates and its taxes are biting!

So begins Sir Apirana Ngata's translation of the Ngāti Pōrou haka Te Kiri Ngutu. And it continues:

Never does the loss of our landed heritage
Cease to burden our minds! A ha ha!
Ever it is upon our lips, clinging
As did the headbands of the warriors
Arranged to parry the enemy's blows!
A ha ha! I was scorched in the fire
Of the sacrifice of blood, and stripped
To the vital heart of the land,
Bribed with the Pakeha gold!

Māori land continued to be alienated due to rates arrears well into the 20th century. And Pakeha "gold" continued to be used to purchase it.

The history of New Zealand Aotearoa in the 19th and 20th centuries is to a large extent a history of the alienation of communally-owned iwi and hapu land – the spiritual and economic life-blood of Māori communities.

As early as 1865 – when the Māori Land Court was set up – 55 percent of the land in Te Paparahi o Te Raki – or Northland – had been lost to Māori through a combination of confiscations and sales to the Crown.

By 1910 another 600,000 acres – or thirty percent of the whenua still owned by Māori – had been purchased by the Crown or private parties.  And by the dawn of the 21st century just 10 percent of Te Paparahi o Te Raki was in Maori hands.

The Crown and Northland iwi are yet to settle their claims and no doubt some land will be returned when they do – but with Waitangi Tribunal claims restricted by law to lands currently in Crown ownership it will only be a fraction of the land lost. Sadly all too often the land with the most spiritual value is not in Crown ownership.

That was the case with Mt Huruiki until one of the descendants of its original owners – Brandon Edwards (Ngāti Hau, Ngāpuhi)  - managed to buy it back in 2011.

Brandon Edwards

Brandon Edwards with his Land Rover Photo: RNZ/Jeremy Rose

In 1961 Huruiki Station was sold to a local Pakeha farmer and the title was transferred from Māori to general title. Brandon’s grandfather was one of 100 shareholders in the land and held the single biggest share – the third generation in the family to do so.

Brandon, a commercial lawyer and investment banker by trade, doesn’t know exactly how the sale came about but does know that the owners were in rates arrears for three years and owed £76.

“I believe, just looking through the information I’ve had available to me, there was some form of persuasion, pressure, encouragement, if you like, because of the default or the arrears in rates to look to sell the property.

“I can only assume, also that’s the case, because it is the maunga for our hapu. That decision to sell would not have been made lightly.”

Brandon grew up hunting on the land – because his family had remained friends with the Pakeha owners – but access to the whenua and the maunga couldn’t be taken for granted by the many other local Māori who whakapapa to Huruiki. From an early age Brandon dreamed of buying the land back.

In the early 2000s the property came back on the market and Brandon Edwards, who had recently graduated and was a practicing lawyer, scraped together everything he could and put together a bid for the property but it wasn't enough and the property was sold to developers.  “So we thought maybe it is just a pipe-dream.”

Brandon and his wife Kiri set about making a life for themselves overseas – with Brandon working as an investment banker in Hong Kong, Singapore and London, and Kiri Edwards bringing up their young family and representing Hong Kong in netball.  It was a successful ex-pat life – a long way from Northland.

Then in 2011 Huruiki station came back onto the market; and Brandon and Kiri, having spent 15 years working in investment banking, were in a position to buy it back.

The couple and their children have returned to Aotearoa for good, and are in the process of transforming Huruiki into a sustainable farm.... and much, much more.

Each school holidays children from Brandon's Whakapara marae run up the 465 metre Mt Huruiki and learn about its history, fauna and flora. The mountain has returned to its people.

Brandon and Kiri Edwards

Brandon and Kiri Edwards on Mt Huruiki Photo: RNZ/Jeremy Rose

Brandon Edwards

Brandon Edwards at the wheel of his Land Rover Photo: RNZ/Jeremy Rose

Brandon Edwards 3

Brandon Edwards admires the view from the top of Mt Huruiki Photo: RNZ/Jeremy Rose